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Looking to Owls for Quieter Airplanes

Wing research could make for less noisy aircraft


Researchers in England are trying to figure out how to apply the owl’s ability to fly silently to commercial aircraft.

The work, being done at the University of Cambridge, is focused on how the birds manage to fly while quieting the natural sounds caused by air over wings, reports This same pattern of air over wings is one of the major causes of an aircraft’s distinctive noise.

Research is focusing on three owl adaptations that may make the difference. First, owls have a group of stiff feathers at the end of the wing. Second, there’s a soft material on top of the wing. And last, the trailing edges of an owl’s wings have a flexible fringe. Any of the three, or all of them together, could contribute to silent flight.

The most likely factor, as determined at the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics meeting held Nov. 18-20, is the trailing edge. A development for commercial aircraft similar to that would enable a new generation of aircraft to significantly reduce the sounds of flight.

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